Elena Rybakina speaks softly, but her racquet is speaking louder by the week

Elena Rybakina speaks softly, but her racquet is speaking louder by the week
Navratilova once said, there are only two things you can control: your toss and your attitude. When both go awry simultaneously, it’s impossible for much good to happen. Such was the case today for Aryna Sabalenka. In a rematch of this year’s Australian Open final, Sabalenka was beaten by Elena Rybakina 7-6 (11), 6-4 in the final of the BNP Paribas Open.

The serving problems Sabalenka had largely solved returned with a vengeance throughout the first set, most notably in the form of ten double-faults, including one when she held a set point at 7-6 in the tiebreaker. A significant sag followed, Sabalenka immediately going down a break in the second set.

Though the match officially lasted four minutes past the two-hour mark, to a great degree it was decided an hour earlier when Rybakina saved two set points before closing out the tiebreaker on her sixth set point. Earlier in that set, Rybakina had fought back from 2-4 down.

“Well, I think important was the first set,” said Rybakina. “We both had chances, but in the end, it went my way.” Having lost all four of her previous matches versus Sabalenka, Rybakina was happy to take the fifth, a win she attributed partially to neutralizing the oppressive Sabalenka return.

“But on the second serve,” said Rybakina, “I just tried to push more, because I remember since Australia she was putting a lot of pressure on the second serve. So this is something for me to improve also. I think here, since the conditions a bit slower, it was kind of easier to play the next shot.”

Suspenseful as the first set was, the rallies had usually been ruthlessly staccato-like. The mix of each player’s powerful serves, flat drives, and the thin desert air made many a ball fly long or wide. It also became blustery.

“In the end of the second set it became very windy,” said Rybakina, “so from one side it was difficult to play. But since I had this advantage of the score I, think this was the difference today.”

Though it was natural for Sabalenka to be demoralized at the end of the first set, the unfortunate aspect was how Sabalenka let the loss of a highly competitive opener become less momentary setback and more epic tragedy. From the start of the second set, Sabalenka moped. And yet, she was only set down versus an opponent she’d never lost to; hardly time to panic. Instead, it was as if Sabalenka wanted to deliver on some form of self-fulfilling prophecy: a bad start at the office, its outcome determined by mid-day. They happen to us all, don’t they?

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